CLEVELAND — The police officer who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice outside a Cleveland recreation center last year won’t face criminal charges. And neither will the other officer who was with him in a controversial shooting that was captured on video.
An Ohio grand jury this week decided not to indict Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback. The incident was a “perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications” that did not reach the point of criminality, prosecutor Tim McGinty said Monday.
Loehmann, an officer-in-training, shot 12-year-old Tamir on November 22, 2014, as the boy pulled out what was later found to be a toy gun. Garmback was training the new cop.
“It is likely that Tamir, whose size made him look much older and who had been warned his pellet gun might get him into trouble that day, either intended to hand it over to the officers or show them it wasn’t a real gun,” McGinty said.
“But there was no way for the officers to know that, because they saw the events rapidly unfolding in front of them from a very different perspective.”
The decision likely will be met with skepticism by a large segment of the population that has roundly criticized police actions in this and other officer-involved shootings throughout the nation.
Beyond the expected protests, what’s next in a case that has prompted calls for greater scrutiny of the use of lethal force by the police?
What happens with Tamir Rice’s family pursuit of a civil lawsuit?
The city of Cleveland has already responded to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Rice’s family by claiming the boy’s death was his own fault.
In the 41-page response to the family’s lawsuit filed in April, the city said that Tamir’s injuries “were directly and proximately caused by the failure of Plaintiffs’ decedent to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
The city response further said that “Plaintiffs’ decedent’s injuries, losses, and damages complained of, were directly and proximately caused by the acts of Plaintiffs’ decedent, not this Defendant.”
The city also claimed it is entitled to all “full and qualified” immunities under state and federal law.
It was “reasonable” to believe the officer who killed the boy believed Tamir was a threat, McGinty said this week, adding that the pellet gun looked like a real handgun.
A recent FBI video analysis, the prosecutor said, showed Tamir “was drawing his gun from his waist as the police slid toward him and Officer Loehmann exited the car.” After the shooting, officers discovered it was a pellet gun.
Civil courts may provide some accountability to Tamir’s family “that they deserve,” McGinty said.
In a statement Monday, Tamir’s family accused the prosecutor’s office of mishandling the case.
“Prosecutor McGinty deliberately sabotaged the case, never advocating for my son, and acting instead like the police officers’ defense attorney,” the statement said.
“In a time in which a nonindictment for two police officers who have killed an unarmed black child is business as usual, we mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice. In our view, this process demonstrates that race is still an extremely troubling and serious problem in our country and the criminal-justice system.”
In an earlier statement, the family said it was grateful for community support, calling for those upset with how the case was handled to respond “peacefully and democratically.”
Will Cleveland discipline the officers or others?
Police officials in Cleveland will conduct an administrative review of the shooting, Mayor Frank Jackson said Monday after prosecutors announced the grand jury’s decision.
It’s possible the police officers involved could face disciplinary action if the committee set to review the case determines policies or procedures were violated, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said.
“Both of the officers are and will remain on restricted duty,” he said. “They have been on restricted duty since this incident happened. That’s part of our process, not to allow officers involved in critical incidents to go back out there into the fray. They will remain on restricted duty until we complete the administrative process.”
The officers involved haven’t spoken publicly about what happened that day. In a statement released on behalf of both officers by Loehmann’s lawyer Monday, they said they were grateful for the grand jury’s “thorough review of the facts” and hadn’t spoken earlier because it would have been “prejudicial and irresponsible.”
The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association said it was pleased by what it called the grand jury’s “thoughtful decision.” But Steve Loomis, the union’s president, said the decision not to indict the officers was no cause for celebration.
“While there is absolutely no upside to this issue,” he said in a statement, “there are lessons that should and will be learned by all.”
What will the U.S. Justice Department do?
A federal review of the case is ongoing.
“We will continue our independent review of this matter, assess all available materials and determine what actions are appropriate, given the strict burdens and requirements imposed by applicable federal civil rights laws,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern Ohio said in a statement Monday.
In December 2014, the U.S. Justice Department released the results of a two-year investigation that found Cleveland officers use guns, Tasers, pepper spray and their fists excessively, unnecessarily or in retaliation. The police force has used unnecessary and unreasonable force at a “significant rate,” employing “dangerous tactics” that put the community at risk, the investigation stated.
Officers also used excessive force on those “who are mentally ill or in crisis,” the Justice Department said.
As a result of the findings, a federal court has been keeping tabs on the Cleveland police as part of a legal agreement.
The Justice Department’s investigation started in 2013, after several incidents, including a controversial case the previous year when more than 100 officers were involved in a high-speed chase that ended with the deaths of two unarmed civilians.
“We renew our request that the Department of Justice step in to conduct a real investigation into this tragic shooting of a 12-year-old child,” Tamir Rice’s family said in a statement Monday.
The prosecutor hasn’t responded to the family’s and their lawyers accusations that the grand jury process was “distorted and corrupted.”
On Monday, McGinty repeatedly told reporters that no crime was committed by police and said he’d recommended the officers shouldn’t be indicted.
What is the future of the officer who fired the shots?
His future on the job remains uncertain.
Nearly two years before he shot and killed Rice, Loehmann resigned from another police job after a supervisor described him as “distracted and weepy” and “emotionally immature.”
Records from the Independence Police Department obtained by CNN include comments from a supervisor detailing what they called “a pattern of lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions,” a “dangerous loss of composure during live range training” and an “inability to manage personal stress.”
“I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies,” Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak wrote in a November 2012 memo.
Loehmann joined the Cleveland Police Department in March 2014. A Cleveland police spokesman has said that during a background check before hiring Loehmann, his department didn’t review the officer’s personnel file from Independence, a suburb south of the city. Detectives did speak with the Independence human resources director, the spokesman said.
“During that interview detectives inquired if there were any disciplinary actions or incidents that Cleveland Police should be aware of prior to hiring Loehmann, at which point they were told there were none,” Sgt. Ali Pillow said last year. “The reason for departure indicated was resignation. Officer Loehmann indicated that he resigned for personal reasons, which was substantiated by the City of Independence.”
According to the records, Loehmann worked at the Independence department as an officer until December 2012, when he submitted his resignation “for personal reasons” after he was told that a disciplinary process of separation had begun.
Loehmann’s “inability to perform basic functions as instructed, and his inability to emotionally function because of a personal situation at home with an on and off again girlfriend leads one to believe that he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation,” Polak wrote.
Another memo from a sergeant who worked with Loehmann at a shooting range described the officer as “distracted,” “not fit to return” after an emotional outburst, adding that he was “not following simple instructions.”
What’s the “perfect storm” of circumstances the prosecutor said led to the shooting?
The 2014 shooting unfolded shortly after a witness at the recreation center called 911, reporting there was “a guy with a pistol,” adding that the weapon was “probably” fake.
Information that the gun the caller saw was probably not real and that the person holding it appeared to be a juvenile was not conveyed to Loehmann and Garmback, according to recordings that law enforcement released.
When the officers arrived, they encountered a person who looked much older than 12 and in communication played for reporters Monday, one of the officers can be heard relaying that a person in their 20s had been shot.
Prosecutors described Tamir as very big for his age. He weighed 170 pounds, was 5 foot 7 and wore a size 36 pants.
The officers were “prepared to face a possible active shooter in a neighborhood with a history of violence,” McGinty said. “There are, in fact, memorials to two slain Cleveland police officers in that very park, a short distance away, and both had been shot to death nearby in the line of duty. Police are trained that it only takes a third of a second or less to draw and fire a weapon at them. Therefore, they must react quickly to any threat.”
Video of the incident shows a patrol car pull up on the snowy grass near a gazebo where Tamir is standing. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, Loehmann shoots the boy.
Several witnesses the prosecutors said were interviewed described seeing the boy throughout the day, removing the airsoft gun that a friend had given to him from his waistband and pointing it at people.
On Monday, officials showed a photo of the pellet gun next to a real Colt model to illustrate how similar they appeared, especially when the replica’s orange safety tip is removed.
Prosecutors said they hired an outside expert to evaluate video that was, on its own, too difficult to easily discern.
In their statement, Tamir’s family blasted that move.
“It is unheard of, and highly improper, for a prosecutor to hire ‘experts’ to try to exonerate the targets of a grand jury investigation. These are the sort of ‘experts’ we would expect the officer’s criminal-defense attorney to hire — not the prosecutor.”
The expert analysis included a statement by a 20-year veteran of the FBI and a former instructor at the agency’s academy that Loehmann’s response was reasonable, given what he knew at the time.
Tamir’s family also accused prosecutors of giving the officers special treatment by allowing them to submit written statements to the grand jury rather than testifying.